V8 SUPERCARS: Bluewash in Queensland
Ford’s Mark Winterbottom and Chas Mostert left their V8 Supercar rivals scratching their heads after a dominant weekend which collectively landed them all three race wins at Queensland Raceway.
With two wins on Saturday and a third place on Sunday, Winterbottom extended his already big lead over Holden’s Craig Lowndes (two seconds and a third) in the championship. His wins on Saturday were Winterbottom’s first at QR since 2008.
Winterbottom’s young Prodrive team-mate Chaz Mostert again uncorked his blistering one-lap speed to take pole for two of the three races.
But Frosty proved to be a faster starter come race time on Saturday, jumping to the lead in both 20-lap sprints. He was never headed, relieved to be clear of some occasionally brutal and manic racing back in the pack.
Lowndes opportunistically grabbed a podium in the first of the Saturday races when he fired past Mostert and Shane van Gisbergen on the final lap as the youngsters squabbled over third.
The Red Bull Holden ace started from pole in the second Saturday race but was jumped by Winterbottom before fighting back to maintain pressure all the way to the flag.
After struggling to convert his qualifying pace into victories, mainly because of tardy starts, Mostert put it together brilliantly during Sunday’s 65 lap race, with compulsory fuel/tyre stops.
He nosed ahead in the run to the first corner and kept his advantage for the ensuring 200 kilometres, Lowndes and Winterbottom taking the minors.
Mostert's strong weekend at the ‘paperclip” lifted him to third on the championship standings, with Holden's Fabian Coulthard slipping to sixth after struggling with car set up.
While Winterbottom enjoys a useful 256-point buffer to Lowndes, he cautiously acknowledges there is much of the 2015 season to play out including the always unpredictable enduros.
Frosty respects Lowndes as a tough rival but would also inwardly acknowledge that the young bloke in the adjoining garage, Mostert, can’t be ignored as a title contender.
And if Winterbottom’s Saturday was close to perfect, his Sunday was less so, admitting to a “few little issues”. “The start for me wasn't great,” he owned up.
Title rival Lowndes saw positives in his weekend. “The car speed is definitely improving but we know we’ve still got more work to do. To have three podiums over the weekend was sensational. A third and two seconds was more than what we could have expected. We’ve got a little bit of time before Sydney Motorsport Park next round, but it’s encouraging. There are a lot of good signs, we had good pace on the softs and good pace on the hards, and we were able to match the pace of the Prodrive guys over the course of the race so a lot of encouragement.”
CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS (after 20 races)
1. Mark Winterbottom (Ford) 1744 points
2. Craig Lowndes (Holden) 1488
3. Chaz Mostert (Ford) 1452
4. David Reynolds (Ford) 1420
5. James Courtney (Holden) 1373
6. Fabian Coulthard (Holden) 1332
7. Garth Tander (Holden) 1261
8. Jamie Whincup (Holden) 1261
9. Shane Van Gisbergen (Holden) 1165
10. Rick Kelly (Nissan) 997
F1: More Red Bull favouritism?
Stories of bias in favour of certain drivers within the Red Bull-owned Formula One teams are never far from the surface.
In his new book, Aussie Grit, Mark Webber talks of Red Bull giving Sebastian Vettel preference in the seasons they spent together in that team.
Webber says that while he doesn’t harbour any animosity towards Vettel today, his generous attitude does not extend to his old team’s polarising ‘motorsport advisor’, Helmut Marko.
Now it seems the bias might be extending to Red Bull’s junior team. Scuderia Toro Rosso where Max Verstappen is getting favoured treatment. Or so says the team’s other driver, Spain’s Carlos Sainz Jr.
Sainz expressed his anger after the team appeared to give Verstappen a preferential pit stop strategy during last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The Spanish media is running hard with the idea that Toro Rosso has inexplicably favoured the young Dutchman.
Sainz, 20, was running ahead of his high-profile teammate when Verstappen was given the advantageous strategy.
"I'm angry because I was doing a very good race," Sain told the Marca newspaper.
Sainz ultimately retired with a car issue but this did nothing to wipe away his bafflement over why his team appeared to favour Verstappen, who went on to finish fourth.
"It has not been explained to me why they didn't stop me first,” said Sainz. “Imagine the anger that I have. I stopped later than the others, Max did 'the undercut' and passed me in the pits. That's what I cannot understand."
Spanish journalists have sided with Sainz, one writer suggesting overt favouritism towards a driver sometimes described as ‘the new Senna’.
Sainz has been no less impressive this year than Verstappen, matching the Dutchman in qualifying (five apiece) but missing out in the races. Verstappen collected 12 points in Hungary to jump to 22 points, 13 ahead of Sainz.
INDYCARS: Power fade at Mid-Ohio
Foreign drivers have tended to dominate American IndyCar racing in recent years but now a good ol’ mid-western lad, Graham Rahal, is making a determined assault on the 2015 title, his cause boosted by an emphatic victory in the Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio road course on Sunday.
Rahal, son of former champ Bobby Rahal, overcame a 13th starting slot in his Honda to charge to his second win of the season, closing to nine points of championship front-runner Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske Chev) with two races left in the schedule.
Ten drivers can mathematically take the 2015 crown.
Rahal grabbed the lead for good on lap 67 when the pointy-end pack, including race leader Montoya, pitted under caution for their final fuel/tyre stop.
With six laps remaining, Rahal then had to get his elbows out to fight off Justin Wilson, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon on a restart at the 13-turn road course, going on to win by 3.4 seconds.
All the three podium men had to fight through from the middle of the pack. Wilson started 14th while Pagenaud went from 15th to third.
Queensland’s Will Power went from the outside of the front row in his Penske Chev to a 14th-place finish and has slipped 59 points off the lead. Fellow Aussie Ryan Briscoe was four places back.
Pole starter Scott Dixon, a five-time winner at Mid-Ohio, finished fourth and is still well in title contention.
Montoya, who started 10th and led for a spell in the middle of the race, finished 12th after being caught out by a caution that couldn’t have come at a worse time.
WRC: Latvala edges Ogier in Finnish thriller
Volkswagen’s speedsters Jari-Matti Latvala and Sebastien Ogier turned on an electrifying show of on-the-edge high-flying driving for the three days of Rally Finland, but it was the local hero who landed the win in round eight of the 13-round World Rally Championship..
Latvala’s average speed - 125.44km/h – was the highest ever in the history of the WRC.
Urged on by thousands of fervent Finns, Latvala put his abundant local knowledge to great effect in the fastest and most spectacular of all events in the world championship, repeating his stirring home win of 2014.
After the Volkswagen drivers exchanged super-close stage wins over the first two days, JML went into Sunday’s final two competitive gravel stages with a cushion of 13.2 seconds over Ogier.
Latvala can blow hot or cold in some rallies but in his homeland he is one tough customer. His excellent Saturday performance, when he opened the 13.2s gap over the defending champion, set up the dramatic victory.
Latvala is a sporting rarity, one of those people who says exactly what he is thinking. So it was no surprise when he blurted out that “Saturday was one of the greatest drives I’ve ever had in my life.” No argument. Any time a rally driver gaps Sebastien Ogier is a good day indeed.
Latvala held his nerve on Sunday, didn’t make any mistakes, and went on to take his third win in Finland – by 13.7 seconds.
Third in an event that surely ranks as one of the greatest spectacles in all of motor sport was Citroen’s Mads Ostberg, followed distantly by Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, who seems to be suffering a crisis of confidence, and Ford rising star Ott Tanak.
This year, the legendary Ouninpohja stage was reintroduced in its glorious 34.39km entirety, replete with scarily high average speeds and 77 crests. Air time on the Ouninpohja stage is a huge talking point – in 2003, en route to victory, Estonian Markko Martin recorded Rally Finland’s longest ever jump when he launched his Ford Focus RS WRC at a take-off speed of 171km/h over the most notorious crest, flying for all of 57 metres. Someone with access to team data revealed that in 2013, Ogier’s Volkswagen spent 30.4 seconds in the air on a stage that only took 15m08.9s.
This year, the slippery surfaces, high speeds and roller-coaster yumps brought many undone, including New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon (Hyundai) who slid into the trees on Friday, VW’s Andreas Mikkelsen (roll), Ford’s Robert Kubica (somersault), and Citroen’s Kris Meeke, who aquaplaned off the road.
Aussie Scott Pedder with co-driver Dale Moscatt finished an excellent fifth in the WRC2 category and 15th outright, aboard a Ford Fiesta R5. It was the pair’s best finish of his debut WRC season, having also contested the Portugal, Italy and Poland rounds. They’ll miss this month’s tarmac-surfaced ADAC Rallye Deutschland to prepare for Coates Hire Rally Australia.
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